Dreamer: inspired by a true story

“You are a great champion. When you ran the ground shook, the sky opened and mere mortals parted.
Parted the way to victory, where you will meet me in the winner’s circle, where I will put a blanket of flowers on your back."


One of the most important stories in Sports Illustrated's history was written by William Nack, the great writer about horses and boxing. Nack grew up around racetracks, served in Vietnam, and when he returned noticed something new: a lot of horses were breaking down. In earlier years, it was rare for a horse to break a leg during a race. His investigation met a wall of silence, until one vet talked to him off the record, confirming his suspicions: Owners were using cortisone to deaden the pain of horses that should not be racing, and the broken bones were the result.

When a racehorse breaks a leg on the track, it is invariably put down. The movie ‘Dreamer’ is based on a true story of the unthinkable: a horse that broke a bone and came back to race again. She was Mariah's Storm, winner of the 1995 Turfway Breeders' Cup. The movie is a well-made use of familiar materials, including the loyalty between a child and a horse that goes back to ‘National Velvet’ (1944) and ‘The Black Stallion’ (1979). It's aimed at an audience of teenagers who may never have heard of those films, and for them, ‘Dreamer’ will be an exciting experience. It has a first-rate cast: Dakota Fanning as young Cale Crane, Kurt Russell as her father Ben, and Kris Kristofferson as her grandfather Pop.

Ben is a trainer for the rich and supercilious Palmer (David Morse). He likes the prospects of a filly named Soñador, which is Spanish for ‘dreamy’- close enough to Dreamer, especially since the title refers to Cale. She's at the track one day when her dad tells Palmer he doesn't think Soñador should run: "She doesn't want to race today." Palmer overrules him, the horse runs, and she breaks a leg. Ben later admits, “If Cale hadn't been with me that night, I'd have left that horse on the track.” But Cale is there, and looking at her big sad eyes, her father has the leg splinted and wrapped, and brings the horse back to the stable. This inspires an argument with Palmer, who is forced to regard the results of his own bad judgment. Ben resigns, taking a pay-out - and the horse.

This is not something he can afford to do. Their farm, which is already “the only horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky, without any horses,” is facing foreclosure. But Soñador mends, and Ben and Pop think maybe she can be bred. That's before Cale gives Soñador her head one day, and the two men watch Cale and the horse flying across the turf. “We could see if she perks up in a real race” Ben says, almost to himself. “Could be easy money,” says Pop. This is a long conversation for them, since they weren't on speaking terms, Pop living on his own in a cabin on the property. The saga of Sonador has broken the ice, and now they're talking together and daring to dream. As for Cale, she knows the horse can run and win. And Pop is right: there would be long odds on a horse making a comeback after an injury.

At a parent-teacher night, Ben reads a story that Cale wrote about a King and his horse, and realizes how much their family needs Soñador. He buys her back with money from his father. Cale decides to race Soñador in the Breeder's Cup Classic, with Manny, Ben's work colleague, as the jockey. They train together and eventually get into the race. At the race, Soñador is upset by Goliath's Boy, Palmer's horse, and Ben thinks this will hurt her chances in the race. But he looks and Soñador and realizes she is ready to race, and she goes on to win the Breeder's Cup Classic.

Girls discover horses right before they discover boys. Whether that represents progress is a question every parent of a teenager must sometimes ponder, but certainly any girl (and a lot of boys) in the target age group are going to make ‘Dreamer’ one of their favorite films… “You are a great champion. When you ran the ground shook, the sky opened and mere mortals parted. Parted the way to victory, where you will meet me in the winner’s circle, where I will put a blanket of flowers on your back